update: the new assistant who missed work her third day on the job

Remember the manager whose new assistant called in on her third day on the job because she needed to help her mother with something? Here’s the update.

The situation actually worked itself out. When she came back the next day, I sat her down, made sure her mother was ok, and then explained to her how important reliability is, etc. (followed your advice). She acted like she was incredibly sorry and embarrassed, and I thought we were on the same page. She finished out the day, but when I came in the next day, there was an email from her telling me she had to quit. She said she thought she was able to take the job, but she really couldn’t.

My manager and I now refer to her as the “space cadet.” We’re always on the look out for others like her.

I learned a valuable lesson from her. Experience isn’t everything. I ask much more probing questions now, even if the position I’m hiring for is part-time.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. Pam*

    Another flag to me would be that she has not once but twice e-mailed her manager when she should have called or had the discussion in person. For me, that demonstrates a lack of confidence and a serious avoidance of confrontation…qualities I would not want in an employee.

    1. some1*

      I’ve always taken it as a sign of immaturity in general. I used to have a friend like this, instead of having awkward conversations that needed to happen, she would start avoiding the person she needed to talk to.

    2. Jessa*

      I agree, this is NOT something you do by email. You call first then you follow UP by email so you have a record of having done so, but you announce it in person.

  2. PPK*

    Now I’m really curious about the employee’s side of the story. Is her mother over bearing and all consuming and she gave up on the job realizing it was hopeless to try and break free? Was she hoping to get a sweet gig for some pin money that she could skip out whenever she needed to? Did she feel so embarrassed that she decided she couldn’t face the office again?

    Anyway OP, it sounds like you handled it well. I hope your next assistant worked out much better.

  3. Jamie*

    It’s possible she needed and wanted a job and thought she could make it work, but wasn’t able to. If she’s caring for an ailing mom this could get very complicated.

    1. Dan*

      Yeah, I don’t really call that being a space cadet. Wishful thinking, yes, but you never know how things will shake out until you really try.

      1. fposte*

        The “space cadet” part is thinking that you can blow off your third day of work without it being a big deal.

        1. Vicki*

          No. A “space cadet” (in my book) would be someone who takes the job and mostly gazes into space during the day, getting nothing done.

          We don’t know exactly why she took the day off and she didn’t “blow off the day” (she called in). Her embarrassment when she came back indicates that she didn;t just “think this wasn;t a big deal”.

          And seriously, the difference between 3rd day and 33rd day or 333rd day puzzles me. At what magical point is it OK to _call in_ because you need an emergency day off?

    2. Pamela*

      That is what it sounds like to me too. I feel bad for her, but she should have been upfront about her situation in the interview.

      1. some1*

        Or if it was a case of her not realizing she could work there and take care of her mom until she started the job, she could have resigned in person and explained that. I think that would go a long way towards maintaining credibility.

    3. Kou*

      I agree, and I think we’re being too harsh here without really knowing anything about someone who’s obviously in a bad situation. Yes the avoidant behavior (with just emailing) is bad, and she probably did it out of fear she’d be yelled at, and she probably has that fear because that exact thing has happened to her before. It only takes a few instances of doing the right thing and being punished for it to be afraid to do that ever again. The oft-mentioned job PTSD.

      I see this happen a lot with people who have chronic illnesses or who have unstable personal lives, like this woman does, because the number of people who will be unnecessarily cruel to you for it is a lot higher than you’d expect. It’s not constructive but it’s a trap anyone can fall in regardless of how responsible or resilient they are otherwise.

      1. Kou*

        I got distracted on my soap box and didn’t make my point. Letter writer handled this as well as she could have, for sure. But I find mocking her with nicknames a little distasteful.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Agreed. Doesn’t endear the OP to me to hear they are calling this woman a space cadet. That’s pretty immature IMO.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I agree. The employee actually realized that it wasn’t going to work and did the right thing. Major points for self awareness there, in my book.

          I true space cadet would have kept making promises, kept failing, and eventually the OP would have had to fire her for non-performance.

    4. Chris*

      “Space cadet”? I’m not particularly fond of that label for her. When my wife’s mother became seriously and suddenly ill and we had to take care of her it tuned my wife’s professional career upside down in 5 seconds flat. This woman may have taken this job because she needed to and then simply realized that she could not do both, it happens.

      A space cadet is someone who calls out the third day and when questioned on it says,” Oh, that’s a problem, whoopsie”

      1. fposte*

        Eh. I think an email bail without acknowledging how completely problematic it is not to turn up on your third day is pretty much right there too. But I’m with Kou in thinking that it’s not a great message in the office to call people nasty nicknames once they’re gone.

        1. Trainspotter01*

          In my company the use of email and text messages has become so prevalent that the value stream lead actually wrote an article in the monthly newsletter to remind people which types of conversations were acceptable to have via electronic medium and which required face to face or telephone discussions. In fairness to this girl, she is certainly not the only “professional” who has chosen a less formal communication method than was warranted for the situation. The name calling is would make me wonder if the girl hadn’t made the right choice, after all.

      2. Anon Accountant*


        This employee’s life may have been turned upside down or her mother’s condition worse than she thought before she took the job. In my opinion a space cadet is someone who says “Oh, my bad” or otherwise brushes it off. The employee had a valid reason although I think discussing it in person with her employer would’ve been a better option.

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    Wow. At least she left before you’d invested all kinds of time in training her, I guess.

    I hired an AP person once for my group. During the interview I made it very clear to her that the job, as well as the department, moved at a very fast pace. The volume of invoices she would be expected to process would be very high, and she would also be required to field calls from suppliers inquiring about payments, internal people wondering about their check requests, and so on.

    We were also under very tight deadlines each month because of requirements dictated by our parent company, which meant that the books had to be closed by midnight on the first day of the month. For all you accountants out there, that’s a one day close.

    She lasted a single day. After her one day of work, she emailed me and said that she could not do the job because of the “disorganized” work environment, and then listed a whole string of things that she found very alarming, none of which were true. Like she said she was “appalled” to see that checks were cut, but then not mailed out for a few weeks. I never did figure out how she got that idea in her head.

    She had just moved here from Alaska, and had previously worked in the accounting department for a very small town. I think she was just overwhelmed by a larger corporate setting.

    In any event, we named her the One-Day Wonder, resumed our interviews, and found someone else.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Your company does sound disorganized. One day turn around? Unless you have everything staged ahead of time there’s something wrong there.

      Why are your suppliers wondering about payments? Why are you fielding it with phone calls? You don’t have some sort of secure means where they can check?

      Why are your internal people wondering about checks requests? They can’t go online to see for themselves?

      And then you name called. For shame.

      1. some1*

        “Why are your internal people wondering about checks requests? They can’t go online to see for themselves?”

        I can’t speak for Ann Furthermore but I’ve worked two places where the Accounting system wasn’t web based, and the system that was used wasn’t accessible to everyone.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, I don’t really know that it’s a sign of a lousy company to not be able to check on check requests on-line.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          Our AP system wasn’t web based either. It was a client/server installation and only those people who used the system had access.

          And we also had a one-day close for the previous month’s books. Our accounting department was very organized and on top of things.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            You have to be organized and on top of things to do a one-day close…you need an online checklist that everyone can access and update as things get done, so anyone can check and see where things are in the process or identify places where help is needed, and so on. I don’t work in the accounting group anymore, but while I was there, I we worked together and identified many improvements to help streamline the process. Since I’ve moved to another group, they’ve continued to refine and review their processes to find more opportunities for improvement, and things run even more smoothly.

            Before coming to my company I would not have thought a one-day close was possible. The standard for many places is 4 or 5 days.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I’m not in accounting, but I worked with them to research differences from time to time. Before we got the two people we have now (actually “had”, business went under recently), I remember the CFO and accountant wouldn’t start closing until almost two weeks into the month. When the recent two people came on board they really streamlined everything and cleaned it up. They were machines!

            2. Katieinthemountains*

              Our rock-star accountant tries to hold us to a 7-day close. If you’re billing standard unit rates instead of lump sum, you can’t do it until the time is posted from the previous week. So, September 30 was a Monday this year; I turned my time sheet in Friday, October 4, and it was October 7 before the accountant could even start my SUR invoices. YMMV, of course, but someone coming from that kind of background would be shocked by a one-day close. However, someone who quits after one day citing a long list of dubious reasons apparently did you a favor.

              1. Ann Furthermore*

                I was shocked by it when I first got there. Our challenge is that for various reasons we have to use a calendar month, and our parent company is on a 4/4/5 schedule which gives you more time. The parent company really doesn’t care about this…the deadline is the deadline. If an asteroid destroyed the building the day of month-end close, they might give us an extension until noon the next day.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        Have you ever worked in Accounts Payable? It doesn’t matter if you pay things the minute they come in, there are always people wanting to know when they’re going to get paid.

        The one day close was certainly not my idea, it was dictated by the parent company and there was no alternative. The deadline was midnight of the first business day of the month to submit the previous month’s financial results, and that was that. No exceptions. And yes, it was incredibly challenging. The fact that there were, normally, very few adjustments required to make corrections in following months means that even with the limited timelines we were pretty good at getting things done quickly and accurately.

        And just because there was not an online tool available for suppliers or internal people to check on their requests does not mean the company was disorganized. It means there was no budget or resources to implement such a tool, and everyone did the best they could with what they had.

        I made it very, very clear to the applicant what the job expectations were, and what a normal day for her would look like. She accepted the job. And then resigned the next day, without even asking any questions about the things she saw that concerned her, for whatever reason. Had she given the job a chance, and put some effort in to learn it, and been willing to challenge herself, she might have been successful. But she didn’t.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Sounds just like my company. We were very small so a one-day close was possible and normal, especially since we had a stellar accounting department (which only had two people).

          Even when we sent the check out the next day, inevitably a vendor would call for payment because some vendors are just like that.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          Chaos is chaos. You may be doing the best you have with what you have. But perhaps you need to realize that it isn’t a well flowing system. There’s a difference between “making do” and being efficient. The employee was right to leave if she saw too many red flags. You may have thought you explained the work environment, but words like “fast paced” are highly ambiguous.

          The employee did you a favor by giving you a list of observations. Instead if asking questions you name called. Vilifying someone that gives negative feedback is a sign of dysfunction. This tells me that little will change at this company.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            I just don’t agree. Just something appears to be chaotic to an untrained or uninformed eye doesn’t mean that it really is. And it’s just the nature of working in Finance — things are usually pretty calm for the first 3 weeks of the month, and then during the last week, it becomes much more frenetic with people wanting to get things in before the books are closed. During the last week of the quarter, this intensifies, and during the last 2 weeks of the year, it intensifies even more. I’ve been working in the finance arena in some capacity for 20+ years and it’s been the same at every company I’ve worked for. It’s the nature of the beast.

            I actually did have a meeting with my boss, and the rest of the team to address the concerns this person listed in her email. We went through each item and discussed them and we all agreed that she just didn’t understand what we did or why we did some of the things we did. And, we wouldn’t have expected her to fully understand our processes after just one day of work. I would never put such unrealistic expectations on someone. And, the fact that her only previous experience was working for a very small town contributed to it as well. A government setting is much different than a corporate one — I’ve worked in both. That’s not to say that one is better or worse than the other, it’s just different.

            It’s been 6 or 7 years since this happened, so the only thing on her list that I still remember was her claim that we cut checks and then held onto them for “weeks” (her word) before mailing them out. This was just not true — first of all, because doing that makes no sense, and secondly, if it was happening, either I or one of the other managers in the group would have heard about it, because a supplier wanting money will figure out a way to talk to someone higher up in the food chain if they’re ticked off enough. Now, sometimes, we WOULD hold a check for a day or 2, but that was usually because the payment was to a small business, and many times, they like to pick up payments in person so the check can be deposited right away rather than having to wait 2-3 days for it to arrive in the mail. Small businesses usually have much more volatile cash flows than large corporations. I’ve worked for some and seen first-hand what a drastic impact a payment coming in even a day later than expected can have on cash flow. So we were always willing to work with companies that wanted to come pick up their checks in person. It’s cheaper than overnighting it, and it helps build goodwill with your suppliers.

            And as far as having a self-service tool for people to use goes, even if it’s available, many people just won’t use them, even if they know they’re available. It’s easier to either send an email or make a phone call than to take the time to learn how to do something new. I speak from personal experience here. I was involved in the implementation of a self-service tool for my company a couple years ago. It was very, VERY well publicized, with many email blasts, promotional/informational materials being displayed/distributed all over the company (posters in common areas like the lunchroom, table tents on all the tables, etc) and members of the project team going to various staff meetings to let key managers know about the project, how it would affect them, and so on. Dozens of training sessions were held — both in person and online — and yet only a small percentage of people bothered to attend one to try to learn about the new tools. After a HUGE investment of time and money, people still reverted to just calling or emailing their questions because it was what they knew and they didn’t want to have to change the way they did anything, even though learning how to use the tool would have made their jobs much easier. This was 2 years ago, and even now, despite our best efforts, people just don’t want to be bothered. It’s very disappointing. If it were up to me, I’d respond to emails and phone called with a polite, “This can be accomplished by using the self-service tools we have available, and we have plenty of online training materials for you to use,” but it’s not up to me.

            My frustration with this employee was not that she pointed out concerns that she had. Any time you bring someone new into a group, you always hope that a fresh set of eyes will help you identify opportunities for improvement. I was irritated because first of all, she resigned via email, which was very unprofessional. Secondly, she only worked a single day, which is just not long enough to make an informed decision — especially if you haven’t bothered to ask a single question. If she had given it a couple weeks, or even a single week, and said, “I don’t think this is the job for me,” I would have been annoyed, but those things happen. Had she come to me on day 2, and said, “Hey, I know I’ve only been here for a day, but I noticed a few things yesterday and I’d like to talk to you about them,” I would have been happy to spend some time with her, or to pull one of the other AP people into a meeting to talk things through. I remember during the interview process that she seemed to have a very calm and professional demeanor, and that was one of the reasons I hired her, because I thought she’d be a low drama employee. So yeah, I was irritated that she cut and run in such an unprofessional way.

            1. Mena*

              Be glad she didn’t waste any more of your time or money and left after one day. And stop name-calling – THAT is unprofessional.

        3. Julie*

          I know this sounds cynical, but maybe she got another job offer she liked better, so she had to find reasons to leave.

  5. KayDay who really wishes she had "real" Internet*

    I think the OP handled the situation well as far as talking to the employee, but I wouldn’t consider someone with a sick family member a space cadet. The employee certainly doesn’t have carte Blanche to miss work (or to quit via email) but I can certainly understand that someone would need a job, think they can handle it, only to realize after the fact that there personal commitments are too much. I think the employee did the right thing by resigning, and shouldn’t be judged to harshly.

  6. Robin*

    I once hired an employee who reported her first day, and asked mid-morning to run out for cough drops. She never returned! Days later she called and told me she didn’t really have enough experience and felt overwhelmed.

    Years later and we still refer to certain new employees as “Cough Drops.”

  7. The Other Dawn*

    I think OP is lucky the employee figured out she couldn’t take the job before any significant time was invested. And I think “space cadet” is a little harsh. It’s not as if the employee totally blew the company off without even an email. Yes, she should have called instead, but at least she communicated. It sounds like she thought she could handle an ailing mother and a job, but couldn’t. And that’s not always something you know until you’re in that situation.

  8. Mena*

    “Space Cadet” sounds harsh to me. It sounds like she wanted and needed the job and thought she could balance it with other demanding commitments. She learned quickly that she could not and didn’t attempt to waste any more of your time.

  9. No Sympathy Here*

    These responses are unbelievable. As if a job is the sacrosanct. It is a job people.

    Please read the original post “She works for us in the morning and cares for her mother in the afternoon.” So this employer knew her personal commitment to her mother prior to hire. She also said “I sympathize as I’m sure caring for an ailing mother is not an easy undertaking”. Yeah right. The first time this new hire needed extra time she objects.

    The new hire did the responsible thing and resigned. The fact she did it by email is irrelevant. She conveyed her decision as soon she made it which is the responsible thing to do.

    Sounds to me like the poster cannot handle the rejection. Hence the mean spirited “space cadet” comment.

  10. Erika*

    Yes, I agree with all. The name calling is very immature and tasteless. Does other individuals read this site at your job?

    Some things are out of your control (called Life right?), and she was adult enough to quit before it got worse, regardless of her situation.

    In the end, sounds like she got the better end of the deal.

  11. dee*

    Almost exactly the same thing happened to me, except, I was in the position of the new assistant. I read this and the original post and thought I’d throw my experience in.

    I started a role whilst still caring for my mother, had a lot of set backs in the first couple days and had to leave before the week was over, because I couldn’t do both. I did it in a very matter of fact (read: sh*tty) manner, too: I just called and left a message on the answer phone saying that I wouldn’t be able to continue, thought I could but I couldn’t. No theatrics or major explanations. Truth was that I was absolutely mortified that I had gone through so much to get the job and was quitting so suddenly- I knew I had let them down when they’d given me a chance and I couldn’t face them. Coward’s way out, but you know what, I just thought, I don’t want to deal with confronting and confiding to bunch of virtual strangers, what’s going on with my mother is way more important than the job, f*ck being “conscientious”, I just need to leave.

    The original post is also wrong in suggesting that because she resigned so bluntly that it was insincere. If this girl is anything like myself, being a primary carer for a disabled/ill mother is such a personal and private thing that you don’t want to be seen seen as playing on it when it continually affects your professional life. Too many times people think your using it as an excuse. Plus, who still wants to be bringing up the fact you are still obligated to your mum? Past the age of 18 it just makes you look like a child, it’s so horrible when you have to tell your boss “sorry, I have to do this thing for my mum…” especially when you suspect they’ll be talking behind your back about it later. I mean Space Cadet? Says it all. I’m not even surprised she left in the way she did. She probably picked up on that vibe.

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